In an age when computers, televisions, tablets and smart phones constantly surround us, it is important to balance your child's screen and play time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a maximum of 60 minutes of screen time per day, including television, video games, phones and apps for children between the ages of two and five. Encourage language and learning during screen time by keeping the following in mind:

1. Choose

It is important to choose apps that are developmentally appropriate for your child both cognitively and motorically. Apps that are too difficult may be frustrating and more of a hindrance than a help for your child. Keep in mind the following when selecting apps.

  • Play the app before handing it over to your child. Make sure it is developmentally appropriate. Look for apps that have:

    • Simple songs you and your little one can sing during daily routines.

    • School preparedness concepts like matching, letters and numbers.

    • Thematic apps that encourage imagination and role-playing. Don't overlook these apps, as they can create many opportunities for conversation. Personal favorites include games by TocaBoca, Sagomini, Furry Friend and Avokiddo Emotions.

  • Increase opportunities for language by giving your little one a choice, such as which game he wants to play, where he wants to play it or how loud/soft he wants the music.

2. Participate

It is often easy to use your phone or tablet as a quick, easy and portable form of entertainment while you are out running errands. Slowing down and participating in screen time will not only allow you to monitor your child's gaming, it could also make a passive source of entertainment into an active social experience. Participate in your child's screen time by:

  • Sitting next to your child while she is playing on a tablet or phone, not only to monitor her activity, but also to show interest, take an active role in what she is doing and explain things she might not understand.

  • Narrating your child's actions and highlighting key actions that are happening in the app.

  • Singing along to songs played on your toddler's alphabet and music apps. Don't be afraid to break out into song during daily routines such as car rides, getting dressed or brushing teeth.

  • Sharing in your child's delight and frustration while he is playing. Cheer and smile when he is successful completing a task or share in his frustration when a task is challenging (e.g., "Ugh!" "Oh-no!").

  • Asking questions about the game to help her problem solve (e.g., "What do you think is going to happen next?" "Hmm, how are you going to do that?")

  • Taking turns playing games such as matching games (note: this may be tricky at first. Be sure to explain and/or show your child how you will be taking turns -- e.g., passing the tablet back and forth and saying "My turn!" "Your turn!")

  • Practicing following directions and basic concepts by having your child navigate an app according to your directions. Make it more fun by allowing your child to be the "teacher" and following her directions.

3. Limit

As much fun as it is playing games on phones, it is important for children to experience the "real world," to engage in pretend play and to navigate social exchanges with peers and adults. Apps are appealing because they are fast paced, repetitive and provide instant gratification, but building social relationships requires much more communication, negotiating, patience and interpretation of body language and facial expressions. Limit screen time by:

  • Using a timer to keep track of screen time.

  • Transferring concepts, songs and experiences from their games and apps into play with games and toys at home. If your child loves a search and find app, play hide and seek at home.

  • Taking themes from your child's favorite games and creating a pretend play experience. If your child enjoys playing cooking-themed apps, take out the play food and role-play as chefs. If your little one loves playing racing games, create a racetrack in the living room with toy cars.

  • Putting down the technology and getting outside to play!

Playing apps on phones and tablets can be a tempting pastime for both adults and children, as they are entertaining and portable. Keep in mind, your child will benefit more from interacting with you to develop language, social and play skills. Set aside time in your daily schedule for interactive screen time to support your little one's language development. When possible, turn off the TV, and put the phones and tablets away during important daily routines such as meals, bedtime and trips to the grocery store and the park. Your child will benefit from the time you spend talking, singing and playing with him.


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Lia Van Dril, M.A., CCC-SLP is a pediatric speech-language pathologist in Rockville, Maryland.